North Carolina Wine: Wilmington & the Southeast Coast


North Carolina Wine: Surprises in the Tar Heel State

Quite possibly there’s no state that offers more historical pride coupled with geographical diversity than North Carolina. North Carolina is a study in contrasts. And through the course of experiencing those contrasts, more than a few very pleasant surprises await.

One look at a map of North Carolina tells part of the story. In the far western part of the state, the Appalachian Mountains provide a scenic backdrop. The central Piedmont area is home to growing cities, along with a technological hub. Farther east is a naturalists paradise — windswept beaches, coastal plains and picturesque harborside communities.

Amidst it all, the North Carolina wine industry thrives. In vineyards and wineries from the mountains to the coast, North Carolina boasts the 10th-largest grape and wine production in the United States. Each distinct North Carolina area offers different varieties of grapes, producing quite possibly one of the widest variety of wine styles in the country.

Here in North Carolina, growers still produce the hardy muscadine grape, a staple in southeastern states. Yet, this is just one small part of grape growing and wine growing here. Vintners in the mountain and Piedmont region of North Carolina have planted traditional European grape varieties and French-American Hybrids, with the result being a surprising and ever evolving selection of wines for travelers and wine lovers.

Exploring North Carolina Wine

Once you’ve been exposed to North Carolina wines, you’ll want to learn and experience more and more. Our journey actually started in the world famous Myrtle Beach, S.C., resort area, where a few extra days tacked onto a long weekend allowed us to venture some 25 miles north to the North Carolina border.

Just across the border from South Carolina, you’ll immediately see signs for Ocean Isle Beach, a low-key resort community located on the southernmost barrier island of North Carolina. Ocean Isle Beach is home to our first winery stop, Silver Coast Winery.

Located just a few short minutes inland from the beach, Silver Coast Winery’s slogan gave us a glimpse of what was in store for our entire wine trails journey. Owners John and Maryann Azzato offer their guests to share in the things they enjoy most: the beauty of nature, the warmth of friendship and the goodness of wonderful wine. And really, how wrong can you go with that?

Set on a 40-acre site, Silver Coast’s wines have been awarded countless accolades from several acclaimed wine competitions, including the prestigious Indy International and the American Wine Society. We enjoyed a break in their garden area after viewing their gallery of works from local artists. As for wine, we were introduced to the Calabash’s, two sibling wines (a red and a white). We loved the dark ruby red, with its hint of plum, black cherry and spice. Also, we were quite impressed with Silver Coast’s Premium Oak Chardonnay, with its wonderfully balanced contrast of acidity and fruit.

And if you’re looking for a nice casual restaurant in Ocean Isle Beach, look no further than Sharky’s, at the foot of the causeway leading out to the beach. Sharky’s is a pleasant “come as you are” spot, with fish sandwiches, hand tossed pizza, hot and cold subs and a great view.

Wilmington, N.C.: Food, Wine and Surprises

While it was difficult to leave Silver Coast (and Sharky’s!), the inland port city of Wilmington beckoned as our overnight destination. Just 60 miles north of Myrtle Beach, Wilmington is a historic river city just minutes from several outlying oceanfront beach communities. Scenic, peaceful, and lively at the same time, Wilmington’s downtown is almost entirely on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been a filming site for more than 400 television and movie productions.

Wilmington is perfect for a walking tour. You’ll enjoy Civil War-era architecture, complete with Southern-style mansions. The Wilmington Riverwalk is chock full of shopping and dining destinations, or a sightseeing cruise up the Cape Fear River. For something completely different, visit the Cape Fear Serpentarium, which offers a fascinating display of some of the world’s most unique reptiles in beautiful simulations of their natural environments.

Just a few short minutes outside of downtown is our next winery stop, Lumina Winery. Lumina is a fun winery/wine supply shop that enjoys experimenting with varietal blends and unique fruit wines. Never tried a Black Raspberry Merlot? We hadn’t either, and this beautiful richly colored and flavorful red won us over. For a more traditional taste, we tried Lumina’s Oleander Bianca, a medium-dry white with a smooth flavor of vanilla and tropical fruit. And for a real taste of North Carolina, go for the Sweet Carlos, a silver medal winner in the recent Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition. Made from North Carolina muscadine grapes, it is a moderately sweet wine with a nice balance of acidity and a fresh fruity aroma.

Other spots we recommend in Wilmington…Front Street Brewery is a gorgeous brewpub in the heart of downtown with a great menu. Visit Blue Moon Gift Shops for fine art and distinct gifts with more than 100 eclectic booths supporting local and regional artists, crafters and designers. Three Hounds Gallery is another charming downtown Wilmington gallery showcasing local art and artists.

35 Years of Grape Growing and North Carolina’s Oldest Winery

Interstate 40 is the main highway in and out of Wilmington, and it’s a short drive on I-40 to our last two wineries on this wine trail: Bannerman Vineyard and Duplin Winery. Formerly a vineyard, Bannerman proudly added a winery in recent years and is one of North Carolina’s oldest muscadine grape vineyards, having cultivated grapes since 1973.

Bannerman Vineyard is located in Pender, N.C., and it’s only an easy 20-minute drive outside of Wilmington. We wanted to stop here to get a taste of North Carolina’s pride, wine made from muscadine grapes. And although muscadine wine is not all that Bannerman produces, it is front and center.

Muscadine is a hearty, versatile grape varietal that does well in the sandy soil of North Carolina’s coastal area. It’s used not only in winemaking, but also in preserves, juice, pies and other dessert treats. As an added bonus, in addition to their versatility, muscadines contain high levels of resveratrol and other health-enhancing antioxidants.

We enjoyed the Sweet Bay Blush, a blend of red and white muscadines, as well as the White Oak Semi Sweet, a fruity white. We just missed on Bannerman’s Strawberry Sweet, made with North Carolina strawberries, as it hadn’t quite been introduced when we visited.

Up the road about 15 miles is the small town of Rose Hill, home of Duplin Winery, the state’s oldest winery. Founded in 1976, Duplin is also North Carolina’s largest, producing more than 250,000 cases annually.

When you arrive, you’ll enter a large retail area — over 5,000 square feet, and a handsome 40-foot-long tasting bar. Take a guided tour of their sparkling production facility and then settle in to taste their many offerings.

Duplin is known for their Southern hospitality, and their fruity easy-to-drink wines follow suit. A must-try is their Hatteras Red, one of the most well known and popular wines in the state. It’s slightly sweet and very pleasantly fruity, with nice balance and full body. Equally good was the light and smooth Magnolia, a white wine with a crisp finish.

Duplin’s gift shop alone is well worth a trip, with everything from their numerous wine selections to specialty gift baskets and wine-related health and beauty supplies. Plan for a good 2 to 2 1/2 hours to fully enjoy the friendly Southern experience at Duplin.

There are also two other wine producing areas in the western part of the state, with dozens of wineries in each.

Cheers!

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